FARIBAULT, Minn. (AP) — An attorney for a former nurse in southern Minnesota accused of going online and encouraging two people to kill themselves wants the Minnesota Court of Appeals to address a free speech question, but prosecutors disagree, according to documents filed in the case.
William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, of Faribault, faces two counts of aiding suicide for allegedly advising and encouraging an English man and a Canadian woman to take their own lives. He has pleaded not guilty.
Melchert-Dinkel’s attorney, Terry Watkins, had argued that the case should be dismissed on free speech grounds but Rice County District Court Judge Thomas Neuville disagreed last month, saying speech that aids in the suicide of another is not protected.
In documents filed Monday, Watkins asked Neuville to certify a free speech question that he wants the court of appeals to consider before the case goes to trial. Specifically, Watkins wants the appeals court to examine whether the First Amendment requires that speech must “create or initiate the intention or disposition to act on the part of the other” in order for his client to be criminally liable.
Watkins says the victims were predisposed to committing suicide and had plans to take their lives. He said his client didn’t sway them by making statements online.
Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster said in court documents that the question Watkins wants certified is hypothetical and isn’t attached to the facts. He also argued that it doesn’t meet legal standards that would merit certification for an appeals court review.
Watkins also argued that the case should be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, because the suicides didn’t happen in Minnesota and his client’s act of sending messages online isn’t a crime in itself.
Beaumaster disagreed, saying the facts show Melchert-Dinkel’s conduct occurred in Rice County.
Neuville has taken the matters under advisement.
Prosecutors have said Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with suicide and cruised the Internet for potential victims. When he found them, they said, he posed as a female nurse, feigned compassion and offered instructions on how they could kill themselves.
Melchert-Dinkel was charged in April in the 2005 hanging death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, and the 2008 drowning of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario.
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